Under the Tonko bill, proposed windmill research, development and demonstration programs would get up to $200 million annually over five years to spur the creation of low cost transportable towers and larger, lighter and more affordable blade materials.
The bill would also create a demonstration program to measure wind energy performance that would include the full range of wind conditions across the country. That data would be then used as part of the research and development program. It also requires that the demonstration programs be conducted in collaboration with private industry.
One of the biggest barriers is the high cost of transporting ever-growing rotary blades and heavy tower components form assembly plants to wind farms in gusty but remote locations.
It is believed that the initiative could leverage nanoscience research by businesses and research institutions that are working at the molecular level to create lighter and more durable materials.
This program, supervised by the Energy Department, would also be tasked with improving gearbox reliability and developing cheaper automation and assembly techniques for large components.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Wind Energy Research and Development Act of 2009, a bill that would authorize a comprehensive program to improve the efficiency, reliability and cost effectiveness of domestic wind energy systems. The House bill (H.R. 3165) was sponsored by Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY 21) and passed with bipartisan support in a voice vote.
Tonko said wind energy makes up 2 percent of the total energy generation in the United States, but there is the potential for it to provide up to 20 percent with the improvements in turbine technology, forecasting, energy storage, and expansion of transmission systems.
The bill requires the Secretary of Energy to carry out a program of research and development to improve the energy efficiency, reliability, and capacity of wind turbines; optimize the design and adaptability of wind energy systems; and reduce the cost of construction, generation, and maintenance of wind energy systems. Specifically, this program would include:
- Examination of new materials and designs to make larger, lighter, less expensive, and more reliable motor blades
- Technologies to improve gearbox performance and reliability
- Automation, materials, and assembly of large-scale components
- Low-cost transportable towers greater than 100 meters in height
- Advanced computational modeling tools, control systems, blade sensors and advanced generators
- Wind technology for offshore applications
- Methods to assess and mitigate the effects of wind energy systems on radar and electromagnetic fields
- Wind turbines with a maximum electric power production capacity of 100 kilowatts or less
- Technologies to improve transmission from remotely located renewable resource rich areas
The bill authorizes $200 million dollars per year from 2010 through 2014 for these programs.
Rep. Tonko added: “Government can play an important role in advancing renewable energy technologies by serving as the bridge that will get the best ideas from the drawing board to reality, and grow our innovation economy. This bill does just that by providing the necessary investment to help private industry perfect wind energy, and bring those advances in technology and cost savings to market.”